...and other misconceptions I made 10-01-26
2010 Jan 26

Archive for March, 2012

March 29th 2012
Out of my league

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Another day in Seoul – once again with much better weather than the weather forecast promised. We’ve been extremely lucky on this trip…

In the morning we visited the old Royal Palace. We watched the changing of the guard and took a tour of the palace grounds. Quite impressive – and lots of great photo opportunities.

Changing of the guardGuarding the palace

Guarding the palaceStunning dragons at the ceiling

The inner gateCeremonial building

After lunch we then had our second Tae Kwon Do training class. This time we spent two hours with a competitive team from the Korean National Sports University. You don’t get to work out with current World Champions, Asian Champions and Korean National Champions very often. Or, actually, ever.

It was an unbelievable experience. The warm-up was a murderous 30 minutes of running, jumping, hopping, skipping and racing. Followed by some stretching and then easy sparring drills. At a relentless pace – there was barely enough time to catch a breath.

From there we went to 1:1 kicking drills and then 2:1 kicking drills – your two partners stood on either side of you with target paddles and you had to do alternating kicks sequences in both directions. You did get ‘breaks’ here, during which you held the target paddles for the other two.

I may have been slightly out of my league.

Ok – by about four orders of magnitude or so.

I felt sorry for the two athletes who did the kicking and sparring drills with me. They only marked their kicks (clearly afraid to hurt the overweight tall old guy) and literally did not break a sweat. I on the other hand was about 2 minutes away from passing out from exhaustion. And no, this is not a figure of speech. I don’t think I was nearly as exhausted after my last marathon. Nor was I in that much pain a few hours later.

That said, it was amazing, the absolute highlight of the trip and maybe the coolest thing I’ve ever done – at least when it comes to sports.

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March 28th 2012
A trip to the demilitarized zone

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Today was all about the more serious side of Korea – we drove up to the demilitarized zone, the 4km / 2.5mile stretch around the border between North and South Korea.

As someone who grew up very close to the inner German border this was especially impressive to me. The tour we took was a strange combination of propaganda, real descriptions of pointless pain and suffering, and strange, desperate hope for a reunited Korea.

The most fascinating part of today was the visit to the “3rd tunnel”. We climbed down to 70m / 230ft below ground and walked about a quarter mile through a tunnel that was mostly less than 1.8m / 6ft in diameter. This tunnel was built by the North 35+ years ago under the DMZ in an apparent attempt to prepare for an invasion of the South. The discomfort of walking hunched over, the light, the noise, the moisture, the claustrophobic feel – it all made this an incredibly intense experience.

Tomorrow we go back to the more fun part of the trip; more sightseeing, and a second Tae Kwon Do session – this times with a team of Korea’s top competitive athletes… Somehow I think I might not exactly “fit in” with that group (based on skill and fitness level, if nothing else).

March 27th 2012
Tae Kwon Do in Seoul

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Today was our first full day in Seoul – and our first Tae Kwon Do class over here. We went to Yonsei University and joined a class there; one of the Masters from Portland joining us on this trip used to be the head coach of Yonsei University. In the gym with us were four Grand Masters, half a dozen Masters, with between them two Olympic Gold Medals, ten World Championships and several dozen Korean National Championships. A rather impressive set of instructors, I might say.

To make this more fun, I ended up in the group with all the black belts. And instead of the normal 45 minute session we were working out for a bit over two hours.

It was an amazing experience – but to be honest, my body hurts quite a bit tonight. 45 minutes of nothing but kicking drills and more than half an hour of various sparring routines were more than I was quite ready for…

Still – so far the absolute highlight of this trip.

Afterwards we did a tour of the university and then visited a Buddhist Temple in Seoul. The weather is overcast and the air is cold yet smoggy. So instead of grandiose pictures I’ll offer a couple of color and texture studies.

painted tree in front of temple artBeautiful stone relief

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March 25th 2012
Back sightseeing in Beijing

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While I have been to Beijing many times, this is only the second time that I’ve been here as a tourist – and the first time since our adoption trip more than six and a half years ago. Sadly I missed two thirds of the Beijing part of our tour, but I got to enjoy at least one day of revisiting places I’ve seen before.

Here are some of the pictures I took yesterday.

Dragon and PhoenixSummer Palace

Woodwork detailTemple of Heaven

Side building at the Temple of HeavenSide building at the Temple of HeavenSunset over BeijingHotel Schonbrunn

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